The Anglo-Saxon word for autumn was harvest (the German word Herbst has the same origin and still means autumn). Over the years it has come to refer to the reaping and gathering of grain, vegetables and stores for the winter, rather than the season. Traditionally Harvest Festivals were held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon being the nearest full moon to the Autumn Equinox. The Autumn Equinox is on September 23rd 2010 and the nearest full moon is the same day this year, for the first time since 1991. It won't be the same day again until 2029!
A corn dolly was made from the last sheaf of corn harvested. The corn dolly often had a place of honour at the banquet table, and was kept until the following spring. Traditionally the spirit of vegetation in the shape of "John Barleycorn" (also an English Folksong) was sacrificed. Barleycorn, the personification of the barley, encounters great suffering before succumbing to an unpleasant death. However, as a result of this death bread can be produced; and beer and whisky made, therefore, Barleycorn dies so that others may live! Try some of our barley-derived food and drink, from barleygrass to malt extract to miso! Or try the beer…
An early Harvest Festival (Lammas from 'Loaf Mass') used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August. Farmers made fresh loaves of bread from the new wheat crop. These gifts to thank God for the harvest were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service. Many people celebrate the harvest with bread making, you can get all the bits a pieces you may need here.
By the 1500s a number of customs were firmly established for the end of the Harvest, including the reapers accompanying a fully-laden cart; shouting "Hooky, hooky"; and one of the reapers dressing extravagantly, acting as 'lord' of the harvest and asking for money from the onlookers. Another widespread tradition was the distribution of a special cake to the celebrating farm workers. Early English settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. Nowadays the festival is held at the end of harvest (which varies in different parts of Britain). To make the traditional seed cake simply follow this recipe, and buy the caraway seeds here!
Some churches and villages still have a Harvest Supper. Until the 20th century most farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a harvest supper, to which all who had helped in the harvest were invited. In 1843 the modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began. The Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise this idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service.
For ideas to turn autumn harvest into delicious dinners why not read more here?
Many people will have their own harvest in their gardens, congratulations! However this isn't always possible for people in the city so we have a quick guide to the allotment scheme in Edinburgh. If you're not lucky enough to live here – we suggest moving! Or contacting your own local council for their details.
The City of Edinburgh Council manages 1233 allotment plots, spread over 21 sites across the city. All sites currently have a waiting list. Estimated waiting times are given by Edinburgh City Council on their website. Full plots (10m x 20m) and half plots (5m x 10m) can be found on all sites. Subsidised plots are available to those people with concessions (pensions and benefits). Allotments can be hired by individuals or groups.
The annual rents from 1 April 2010 are:
• Full plot: £60 (£30 with concession)
• Half plot: £30 (£15 with concession)
Allotment holders can seek advice from the Allotments Officer on the cultivation and growing of vegetable and crops (including organic growing) and small fruits. Allotment sites are fully serviced with water, secured fencing, good pathways, composting, toilets, waste bins and notice boards. Allotment holders are encouraged to compost as much vegetable matter as possible. The Allotment Association has purchased shredding equipment which can be used by holders for making compost.